A clever website is profiting from the outrageous lines and wait times plaguing California DMV offices. The Oakland-based site YoGov, which calls itself “Your government services concierge,” is charging $19.99 a pop to schedule you an expedited DMV appointment at a time when the available online appointment slots are months off in the future.
But the San Francisco Chronicle reports that DMV officials are looking into whether this scheme is illegal. California DMV deputy director of communications Armando Botello tells the Chronicle the department found that YoGov is “charging customers a fee and attempting to find an appointment using DMV’s online appointment system, which is free and available to everyone.”
YoGov’s site does “guarantee an appointment within 1-2 weeks or your money back,” though you have to enter your credit card information before you’re shown when that date may be. But SF Weekly just tried to schedule a standard appointment on the official DMV website, and the first available slot was September 13 — a full nine weeks from now.
It’s no secret that DMV wait times have dramatically increased in recent months, thanks to rigorous new Real ID license requirements. While you can also show up at a DMV office without an appointment, that typically entails a seven to eight-hour wait, with no guarantee you’ll even make it to the window that day. That’s leading more people to make online appointments, and those appointment slots are getting pushed out by months.
YoGov is ingeniously exploiting this by gaming the online system and snatching up earlier appointments as they become available. “It’s a bunch of people sitting around hitting refresh. We do it manually,” YoGov founder and CEO Ryder Pearce tells the Chronicle. “You’re paying someone to search on your behalf.”
This digital hacking of public services recalls the 2014 debate over the MonkeyParking app, which allowed people to sell off parking spaces to the highest bidder. But while that app was clearly illegal and quickly driven out of town, DMV officials are not even sure whether YoGov is breaking the law by selling appointment slots.
YoGov’s Pearce says he’s trying to form a friendly relationship with the California DMV, and the company has done work with San Leandro to improve the city’s website interface. But on the question of whether it’s legal to sell DMV appointments that are otherwise free, we may be waiting awhile for an answer.